A year-and-a-half ago, it would have been hard to imagine a call from
U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray
analyst Ashok Kumar generating anything near the level of interest it does today.
Back then, Kumar was just the voice in the wilderness, testifying that
business was on the verge of slowing. Short-sellers found a hero in him, but most of the world just scoffed. People had been trying to shout down Dell for a long time, and every one of them got burned.
But Kumar was right, and when an analyst successfully goes against the grain Wall Street sits up and takes notice. So his Tuesday-morning downgrade of
, which just last week hit a new high, pushed the stock down $4.12, or 5.6%, to $69.81, and got Kumar booked on
You Can't Stop Him
"This guy gets a lot of press for an upgrade and a downgrade, that's for sure," said Jim Volk, co-director of institutional trading at
Kumar's downgrade of Intel, to buy from strong buy, comes part and parcel with a secular slowdown that he sees in the PC business: He dropped Dell to buy from strong buy early last month on the belief that PC demand worldwide would peak this year. Slowing PC demand translates into slowing chip demand. (Piper Jaffray hasn't underwritten for Intel or Dell.)
"We now expect sequential unit growth in the mid-single digits, which is well below consensus expectations," wrote Kumar. The analyst is also worried that Intel will face an inventory overhang going into the December quarter, which could put it into a "malignant" pricing environment.
"It's interesting -- it's such a contrary call right now," said Jeff Matthews, portfolio manager at Connecticut-based hedge fund
You Can Only Hope to Contain Him
Kumar's call reinforces his position on one side of a debate that has created deep divisions in the financial community -- the question of how long the current favorable supply/demand dynamic in the semiconductor market will stay intact.
Matthews notes that most on the Street have been pretty positive on demand lately -- hence those recent new highs on Intel. But Matthews himself thinks Kumar may be right on this one. He notes that Dell, which he is short, and
have launched some pretty aggressive advertising and rebate campaigns recently.
Because Intel remains a benchmark for technology, Kumar's call carries repercussions for the entire sector.
"If unit growth is slowing, it's going to spill over to some of the others as well," said Volk. "It's going to take the starch out of technology."